Where Did That Gold Come From?
A Look at Modern Day Precious Metal Mining Practices

Beginning in the mid-20th century, some major changes took place in the way in which a great deal of precious metals and other ores mined around the world. Historically, precious metals and other ores more often than not were acquired through shaft mining practices. By the middle part of the 20th century the reliance upon shaft mining began to change in favor of different types of surface mining practices.


There are three basic types of surface mining practices that are in use today:

Each of these processes have been controversial. However, because these surface mining practices have proven to be economically beneficial and efficient, these surface mining practices are becoming more widely used all of the time. A consideration of the three major types of surface mining practices is illuminating.

Strip mining is defined as the practice of locating a seam of mineral ore, a seam or precious metal that is to be mined. Once the seam is located, the soil and rock that covers the seam is removed completely. The soil and rock that rests on top of the ore, on top of the sought after precious metal, is called "overburden."

In some ways strip mining is similar to open-pit mining. However, as will be discussed more shortly, with strip mining, effort is made to expose only that portion of earth that is directly above an identified seam of ore or precious metal.

Most experts believe that strip mining is only practical when the ore that is sought rests close to the surface. Indeed, it is only economically feasible to strip mine in such circumstances, in situations in which the ore is fairly easy to reach.

As mentioned previously, there are some similarities between strip and open-pit mining. Open-pit mining involves the creation of a literal pit through which ore or minerals will be distracted. In many instances, the open-pit utilized in this mining practice can be very large. In open-pit mining, soil and rock is removed not only over identified seams of mineral ore, but over a wider expanse. An open-pit mine normally goes deeper into the ground than does strip mining. More often than not, the open-pit will continue downward until all of the mineral is exhausted.

Mountaintop removal is probably the most controversial type of surface mining procedure. In the case of mountaintop removal, explosives are utilized literally to blow the tops off of mountains in order to reach mineral ore deposits. This type of mining actually does have a significant impact on the environment. In today's world, mountaintop removal mining has been used fairly significantly in West Virginia in the search for coal deposits.

No matter which of the three major types of surfacing mining practices are utilized, one of the legal requirements associated with these practices is the need to reclaim and restore the land and environment disturbed as a result of the surface mining project. Reclamation can be an expensive process. However, and has been noted, this is a legal requirement of surface mining in the 21st century.

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